Eric Starkman
Eric Starkman

President Trump is an unparalleled master of self-aggrandizement and victimization, claiming to make America great again while fighting the evils of a “corrupt” media and Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt.”

Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and Nike understand the pervasive forces of public ignorance and gullibility that led to Trump’s election and have effectively harnessed them for their own profit and gain.

Let’s begin with Kaepernick, possibly the only athlete to land a lucrative Nike endorsement deal for a performance on the sidelines. The Kaepernick narrative endorsed and promoted by Nike is that he’s a victim of discrimination because no team drafted him after he was benched by San Francisco and opted out of his contract. Quarterbacks with poorer records than Kaepernick’s have been signed, so de facto the NFL must be discriminating against him because of his national anthem protests.

Here’s what people who get paid to focus on football have said about Kaepernick. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote a column in March 2017 entitled “Colin Kaepernick’s biggest problem? Performance, not politics.” Seifert noted that Kaepernick was one of the league’s “least accurate quarterbacks” for two years. “When given a choice between players with relatively equal projections in terms of production, teams are likely to choose the one who brings what they perceive to be less controversy. What happens on the field is always the most important factor.”

Jay Mariotti of the San Francisco Examiner was highly critical of Kaepernick before his anthem protests and called on the 49ers to “dump” him because he let it be known he would prefer playing in New York where he was dating the celebrity girlfriend he lured away from teammate Aldon Smith. Quarterbacks are supposed to be leaders and instill unity, but Kaepernick was a divisive force. He was involved in a highly publicized on-field fight with Smith in training camp.

It’s noteworthy Kaepernick didn’t begin his anthem protests until he already was benched. Rather than risk everything, he found a creative way to keep himself relevant. Even if one chooses to believe that Kaepernick is genuinely concerned about the mistreatment of minorities, his endorsement of Nike is highly questionable. Racial discrimination is quite pervasive in the footwear industry, and Nike is regarded as one of the biggest offenders.

Tellingly, Kaepernick hasn’t protested the widespread violence of football players off the field or expressed concerns about playing for a team ranked first in number of arrested players.

Serena Williams, who got trounced by Naomi Osaka at the recent U.S. Open, claimed she was a victim of “sexism” when the most respected umpire in tennis cited her for multiple penalties. The U.S. Open and other Grand Slam tennis tournaments are indeed guilty of sexism, but of the sort that Williams has never protested. Male and female players are both paid the same winnings, but male players have to play best of five sets, while women only have to play best of three. Equal pay for less work (and considerably less risk of injury).

When confronting the referee, Williams declared he would never again referee one of her games. Flaunting power and promising to vanquish his enemies is one of Trump’s signature traits. Another Trump trait is refusing to apologize, which Williams declined to do even after her coach admitted he was signaling to her from the sidelines, a violation of tournament rules.

Williams vowed to “continue to fight for women” while proudly sporting the Nike logo she likely receives a tidy sum to wear. Williams conveniently ignored, or is unaware, of the damning New York Times story in April about Nike’s mistreatment of female employees or the class action lawsuit charging that women at the company are devalued and demeaned.

Nike’s marketing folks have truly done Trump proud. The company is being hailed for its “courage” to promote Kaepernick, its logo was prominently displayed by a much-admired athlete claiming to fight for women’s rights, and its slick advertising campaign has received gushing media coverage. The public neither knows nor cares that Nike’s business practices and culture are at odds with the causes that Kaepernick and Williams profess to be fighting for.


Eric Starkman, a former financial journalist with major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, managed an eponymous PR and crisis communications firm for more than 20 years.